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Switching birth control methods: what you need to know

Over our fertile lifetimes we are likely to change birth control methods multiple times. This frequency could be a symptom of a lack of suitable options, or the fact our needs and preferences change over time. It’s an important decision, if and when you switch your current birth control, and in this post we’ll help guide you through this change.

Initial conversations when changing methods

It's always worth having a discussion with a healthcare professional before making a decision about your reproductive health. This should be an open conversation where you can list your preferences and choose from suitable options. 

We recommend doing some research beforehand so you can go into your discussion with specific questions for your doctor. Below we’ve outlined some points you may want to consider. It’s also worth noting that many may find it helpful to have a conversation with their partner before they make this change.

Why might you switch birth control methods?

There are lots of different reasons that might prompt you to switch. No one method works for everyone, so it can sometimes take a little trial and error to find the one that’s right for you. It may be time to make a change if….

You often forget to take your birth control pill

If you take oral contraceptive pills (whether combination pills that contain both estrogen and progestin, or progestogen-only), it’s important to take it as prescribed. If you regularly forget to take your pill, or find it hard to stay consistent with when you take it, it can put you at a higher risk of pregnancy, and you may prefer to switch from one birth control method to another. For example, you could consider choosing one that’s lower maintenance, such as a copper or hormonal intrauterine device or implant.

You’re having unwanted side effects

Side effects can vary between different options, thanks to the different mix of hormones used in each, so if you’re experiencing unpleasant symptoms of hormonal birth control, you may want to switch. Unwanted side effects can include:

You’re experiencing unwanted changes to your cycle

As noted above, hormonal birth control options can affect your period. A copper IUD could make your period heavier, while a hormonal IUD could make your period lighter, or even stop it completely. Pills could lead to irregular bleeding, spotting or a change in your cycle. If you prefer to know when your due to bleed, or you worry about pregnancy with every missed period, then you may want to make a switch.

You have a health condition

If you have certain health conditions, it may dictate what is available to you. For example, if you have a certain type of migraine, have high blood pressure, or have blood clots, then it’s not recommended that you take anything containing estrogen, as it could increase your risk of stroke. 

How to safely switch birth control methods

If you decide you want to try a new form of contraceptive, it’s important that you do it properly to ensure you’re preventing pregnancy.

It’s important that you go straight from one method to the next without taking any breaks. If you take a pill, you don’t need to finish the current pack before changing to a new contraceptive for you to be protected - but it’s a good idea to do so in order to minimize any side effects.

Depending on what contraception you currently use, and what you’re switching to, you may need to overlap them - meaning you may need to keep using your old method for a short time after starting your new one. You can confirm with your healthcare professional whether you’ll need to do this. Either way, it’s a good idea to use a backup method like condoms or spermicide for a week or so after making the switch to prevent pregnancy.

Potential side effects to be aware of

Different hormonal contraceptives come with different side effects. Whichever one you choose, it’s common to experience irregular bleeding. You may also experience:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Acne
  • Loss of your period
  • Low sex drive
  • Low mood
  • Headache
  • Weight gain
  • Different levels of vaginal discharge

All of these side effects should even out within a few months as your body adjusts to the different hormones, but you should speak to a healthcare professional if you have any concerns. It’s important to use a backup method to prevent unwanted pregnancy while you’re making the switch between different contraceptives! 

Remember, too, that condoms are the only contraception that protects against sexually transmitted infections, so, depending on your circumstances, you may still want to consider a barrier method during the transition period and beyond.

So, now you know how to safely swap, what other considerations do you need to think about when you choose a new method? Well, that all depends on what the new contraceptive is.

Switching contraceptive pills

Since different birth control pills contain different doses of hormones, it’s common for us to be prescribed different pills to suit our needs. If you experience side effects on birth control containing estrogen you might be prescribed a lower dose on the combined pill. Other women should forego options with synthetic estrogen altogether and, if still looking for an oral contraceptive, opt for mini pills or progestin-only pills which use only synthetic progesterone.

Before you switch pills, we recommend speaking to your healthcare professional to ensure you stay safe and find the best new pill brand for you. Most doctors recommend that you go from one pill to another without any gaps, but it’s important to speak with your doctor to get their recommendations on when to start your new pack. They’ll be able to tell you whether you can start your new pills straight away or if you need to finish the current pill pack, and if you need to take your placebo pills from the previous pack. If you’re taking a break between switching birth control pills it’s important you either abstain from sex or use condoms to prevent pregnancy.

Changing between hormonal birth control methods

There are more hormonal options than just pills. As well as oral contraceptives, there are intrauterine devices (IUDs), injections, patches, and implants. These vary in how they are used and some require fitting from a doctor or other healthcare professionals.

Switching non-hormonal contraception methods

Unlike hormonal methods, most non-hormonal methods don’t require a prescription or a fitting from a healthcare professional. The exceptions here are diaphragms and caps which come in different sizes and need to be fitted, and of course, the copper IUD which does require insertion and removal. Did you know that the copper IUD can also be used as emergency birth control if it is fitted up to five days after unprotected sex has taken place?

Other non-hormonal methods include condoms, internal condoms, fertility awareness-based methods and Natural Cycles. While switching non-hormonal methods may not require a prescription, we still recommend that you consider your options carefully, as there are a number of things to think about, including effectiveness.

Changing from hormonal to non-hormonal contraception

There are many reasons you might choose to switch from a hormonal option to a non-hormonal one. These include unwanted birth control side-effects, or if you’re thinking about planning a pregnancy in the near future. As it can take time for your cycle to come back to how it used to be when you stop taking hormonal methods. Depending on the contraceptive and how long you’ve been using it for, this can either happen quite quickly, or it might take longer. 

There are many advantages to switching to non-hormonal methods. For example, you can learn more about your body and the patterns of your unique cycle, as you’re no longer suppressing ovulation as with hormonal methods.

Changing from non-hormonal to hormonal contraception

Others may choose to start on hormonal methods after using a non-hormonal method. There are many reasons women choose to switch to hormonal from a hormone-free contraceptive. In some cases, hormonal options can also be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of medical conditions, such as endometriosis.

Depending on the type of hormonal contraception, and where you are in your cycle, your new method can sometimes start to work straight away, but most of the time it must be taken for a number of days before it becomes effective. It’s worth remembering that no contraception is 100% effective.

Switching to Natural Cycles

Many women have chosen to change their form of birth control methods and join the 3 million women who have registered for Natural Cycles. A hormone-free option, Natural Cycles uses basal body temperature, paired with an algorithm that learns and predicts your fertile window. Depending on your current birth control method, you’ll either be able to get started with Natural Cycles straight away, or you might need to wait a little bit until you can start. 

  • If you’re currently using non-hormonal contraception such as condoms or fertility awareness, you can get started with Natural Cycles straight away. 
  • If you are using pills, we recommend you finish all the active pills in the packet, and then get started with Natural Cycles the day after you've finished all active pills. 
  • If you have a hormonal IUD or an implant, you can start using Natural Cycles the day after it has been removed. The same goes for the hormonal patch and the NuvaRing (vaginal ring). 
  • For the contraceptive injection, you should use Natural Cycles once the effect of the injection has worn off (8-13 weeks depending on the type of birth control shot). 
  • If you have a copper IUD, you can use this in tandem with Natural Cycles, since it doesn’t prevent ovulation, but you may also choose to have it removed if you want to use Natural Cycles as your primary form of birth control. 

Natural Cycles works by finding your fertile window and letting you know when you can and can’t get pregnant - because you’re not fertile every day of your cycle! Since hormonal methods affect our cycles, you can expect the app to give you more red (fertile) days in the beginning before it finds your ovulation. Natural Cycles isn’t any less effective during this time, but you must be willing to use condoms or abstain from sex until you get green days. 

We hope you’ve learned something about switching birth control methods. At Natural Cycles we believe in choice and want every woman to feel empowered to make informed decisions about her own reproductive health. If you are considering switching birth control, why not find out if Natural Cycles could be a suitable option for you?

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Written By

Lauren McKay

Lauren McKay is a writer and journalist with more than ten years of experience writing across a variety of topics. She is a passionate advocate for driving women’s health knowledge and is a trained yoga teacher. She earned a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow and currently lives in Scotland.

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Scientifically Reviewed

Jack Pearson

Dr. Jack Pearson is a previously HCPC registered Embryologist with a PhD in reproductive medicine. Prior to joining Natural Cycles leading Medical Affairs, he worked for more than 10 years in a clinical setting working at some of the busiest fertility clinics in the UK. Today he spends most of his time working with experts at the world’s leading institutions to carry out important research with the vision to further the field of female health. He earned his PhD from the University of Sheffield specializing in Sperm Metabolism and currently lives in London.

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